Ils Lane

Ils Lane stretches just over 200 ft from 53 Columbus Ave to the back of City College of San Francisco's Chinatown Center, St Mary's Catholic Center and Sterne School. To a pedestrian walking past it may appear just an alley but look a little closer and you will find that the walls along this hidden corner in the heart of San Francisco have witnessed many of the city’s most defining moments.

The I Hotel sat on the same block as Ils Lane and when 3,000 community members surrounded the I-Hotel on August 4, 1977 in an attempt to keep residents in their homes little Ils Lane was a part of the struggle. In 1974 Ils Lane was the site of the Jung Sai Garment Workers Strike, when female garment workers in one of the buildings abutting the alley struck against clothing company, Esprit. In the 1930’s Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo lived across the street. It has seen natural disasters, catastrophic fires, development and inevitable progress.

In the early 2000’s, as the city was experiencing it’s first dot com boom, residents at 53 Columbus were threatened with eviction because the building was slated for demolition. Unwilling to leave their homes and face the challenge of finding housing in a city that was already beginning to see skyrocketing housing costs, residents started to organize.

With the help of the Asian Law Caucus, Chinatown Community Development Center and the San Francisco Community Land Trust they succeeded. The nearly 50 predominantly low-income residents were able to stay in their homes, get the building sold to the San Francisco Community Land Trust, and convert it to a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative – preserving it as affordable housing for low-income people in San Francisco forever.

Despite it’s history today Ils Lane is mostly forgotten but with a grant from San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development the Ils Lane Advisory Council, convened by the San Francisco Community Land Trust with the participation of City College and Sterne School, is hoping to change that.

They’re starting by decorating the walls with a 3-panel mural by San Francisco artist Sirron Norris. The mural honors the lane’s history with bright colors and vibrant imagery that bring recognizable San Francisco landmarks into Ils Lane. This is just the beginning of the Advisory Council’s effort to make Ils Lane a safe and beautiful public space accessible to all residents of San Francisco. They look forward to filling the Ils Lane with celebrations and activities as it builds its reputation as one of the city’s historic landmarks!